According to a UN report released Wednesday, “more than 7 million girls under the age of 18 are still giving birth each year” and 2 million of them are 14 or younger, worldwide. The UN Population Fund says “this group faces the gravest long-term social and health consequences from giving birth as teens, including higher rates for death during childbirth and the complication obstetric fistula, the development of a hole in the birth canal that can obstruct labor,” CBS News notes. They quote the fund’s executive director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, as saying, ”A girl who is pregnant at 14 is a girl whose rights have been violated and whose future is derailed.”
Osotimehin says in the UN report, “The reality is that adolescent pregnancy is most often not the result of a deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond a girl’s control. It is a consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care.” It is so important to acknowledge this; any girl under the age of sexual consent who gives birth has technically been raped. And, as the report notes, often times not just technically, but violently. The report states, “Early pregnancies reflect powerlessness, poverty and pressures – from partners, peers, families and communities. And in too many instances, they are the result of sexual violence or coercion.” This is true in both the developed and developing world, but it’s worth noting that 95% of the 7 million births to mothers under 18 happen in third-world countries.
In the US, the teen birth rate has been falling since 1991, and it reached an all-time low in 2012. According to the CDC, only 305,000 babies were born to underage mothers last year. (Birth rates for American women in their 20s fell and raised for women in their 30s.) In New York City, the teen birth rate has fallen steadily since 2003, but that didn’t stop the Bloomberg administration from engaging in an aggressive public awareness campaign to curb teen pregnancy. As for curbing teen pregnancy in the rest of the world, the UN report says developing nations must call for an end to child marriage and take “more action on gender equality.”
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